MISSION VIEJO, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Attorney Mahyar Ghassemian, of the Ghassemian Law Group, today announced her case is proceeding to trial regarding a counterclaim filed in October 2019 in US District Court1 (CA) against Hillphoenix, Inc. a 133 year-old refrigeration manufacturing and services company with its principal place of business in Conyers, Georgia and its (subject) California branch office in Chino, California.2 Hillphoenix is a part of Dover Food Retail, a subsidiary of Dover Corporation, a Fortune 500 diversified global manufacturer with 24,000 employees and annual revenue of over $7 billion (NYSE: DOV).
The counterclaim is on behalf of David Rogers, a former executive of Hillphoenix, and his newly formed company California-based Classic Refrigeration SoCal (“Classic”), a startup refrigeration services company established in 2019. The counterclaim was prompted as Hillphoenix filed a retaliatory lawsuit against Rogers, Classic and Thomas David Lowe, another principal of Classic.
Summarizing her clients’ claims, Ghassemian states, “This is a simple ‘David v. Goliath case.’ A billion dollar global corporation launches a retaliation campaign sparing no expense in deploying a small army of lawyers, to sue and obstruct its own formerly celebrated employees—who resigned honorably—to run their small shop out of business before they even opened.”
According to Court filings, upon Rogers’ departure in January 2019 Hillphoenix refused to pay him his contractually earned 2018 bonus of $127,399.3 Further, it refused to provide him with COBRA health coverage, mandated by Federal law, for nearly two months despite knowing his minor daughter needed a surgery that had been scheduled shortly thereafter.4
Preliminary to the jury trial sought by Classic, a Court-mandated settlement conference in US District Court, Central District, Southern Division of California, is set for September 29.
Rogers, and Lowe were employed at After Marketing Services (“AMS”) the contracting arm of Hillphoenix. Rogers served as the General Manager in charge of Southern California and Arizona, and Lowe as branch Manager for the SoCal branch. Rogers, working for Hillphoenix since 2014, was consistently promoted and became General Manager in 2017. Lowe, having worked for Hillphoenix for 20 years resigned as he and Rogers sensed a significant shift at Hillphoenix away from customer service priorities and employee relations.
Rogers resigned from Hillphoenix in early 2019 to open Classic Refrigeration SoCal, and Lowe joined Classic in March.
Immediately after Lowe left, with the resources of a global company’s backing, Hillphoenix launched a ‘scorched-earth lawsuit’ against Classic in an attempt to shut it down before it even opened. In one day, Hillphoenix’s attorneys filed 25 documents, a request for a Temporary Restraining Order requiring a response within 24 hours in addition to the Complaint. And, despite the Dover Board of Directors’ Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, Classic’s counterclaim alleges, “Hillphoenix sent copies of the lawsuit to some of Classic’s customers, telling them Rogers and other Classic principals will soon be going to jail.”5
Classic’s work consists of installation, service and repair of commercial refrigerators and it is a licensed construction company
There was no “wooing” of Hillphoenix employees as alleged, and none would have been needed. As Hillphoenix itself states in its complaint against Classic, “Since Defendant Rogers left Hillphoenix, at least 15 employees left or announced they were leaving the company, many to join Rogers.”6 According to Ghassemian, and various witnesses’ depositions, an estimated 40 employees resigned from Hillphoenix just in 2019.
Of 72 ratings of Hillphoenix on Glassdoor.com, 75 percent “disapprove” of its (Dover Food Retail) CEO Paul Sindoni. 68 percent “would not recommend employment at the Company to a friend.”7 Mr. Sindoni received only 2.4 of 5 stars from his employees, noted one, “…over the last few years, more and more Dover people and edicts have eroded what made this company great.”
Earlier this year, private equity fund PMC Capital announced it acquired the Chino branch of The AMS Group, the division in which Rogers and Lowe were previously employed. The stated purpose is to accelerate growth, “through add-on acquisitions” – a common anti-competitive strategy. CEO Paul Sindoni is quoted in the announcement as being “delighted.”8 Ghassemian notes, “Hillphoenix shed its AMS division, yet it continues to sue its former employees at a startup company operating in the same line of business as the division they just sold? Sindoni makes no attempt to hide his blatantly retaliatory efforts -- and to send a chilling message of intimidation to all Hillphoenix workers.
“According to my clients, Dover Board Chairman Michael Johnston had a good reputation amongst managers when he first was nominated to Chairman in 2016. We don’t know why he and others on the Dover and Hillphoenix Boards would support this conduct,” says Ghassemian.
For Dave Rogers, Classic Refrigeration SoCal Founder and a veteran in the close-knit refrigeration business, the charges from his former employer run counter to free enterprise. “Starting a new company is the American Dream. Competitor companies like Publix, Wegman and HEB, model the high standards which inspire my company, just look at their employee reviews, fantastic.”
Ghassemian, who has dealt with Goliaths before states, “They have papered my client relentlessly. In 17 months of litigation their army of lawyers has not produced a single credible reason for this lawsuit. This is a personal vendetta against my clients. We eagerly look forward to meeting the jury and presenting our case: Hillphoenix ambushed Classic Refrigeration SoCal with a retaliatory and punitive lawsuit for the sole purpose of killing the new company and hampering any competition.”
- US District Court, Central District of California – Southern Division Case 8:19-cv-00695-DOC-JDE Document 104 Filed 10/04/19 Page ID #:2728
- Case 8:19-cv-00695-DOC-JDE Document 101 Filed 09/20/19, Page 3, section 4
- US District Court, Central District of California – Southern Division Case 8:19-cv-00695-DOC-JDE Document 104 Filed 10/04/19 Page ID #:2728, page 29, section 12 and 13
- US District Court, Central District of California – Southern Division Case 8:19-cv-00695-DOC-JDE Document 104 Filed 10/04/19 Page ID #:2728 Page 26, line 8
- US District Court, Central District of California – Southern Division Case 8:19-cv-00695-DOC-JDE Document 104 Filed 10/04/19 Page ID #:2728 page 49, section 117
- Case 8:19-cv-00695-DOC-JDE Document 101 Filed 09/20/19 page 10, section 30.
Case 8:19-cv-00695-DOC-JDE Document 101 Filed 09/20/19 page 10, section 30.